Hydration station for a greener nation is a campus sensation

The Blue and White may bleed red for blood drives, but it exudes green for the environmental conservation.

Continuing its ongoing sustainability initiatives, Penn State New Kensington has becomes more environmentally friendly by installing water bottle refilling stations at selected locations on campus. The new drinking fountains, known hydration stations, are expected to decrease the use of plastic bottles, and alleviate the amount of trash that winds up in landfills.

"Instead of purchasing bottles of water, we encourage students, faculty and staff to bring refillable drinking containers to campus," said Jason Bush, director of business and finance.

Complementing the traditional drinking fountains, the water bottle refill stations are attached to the back of regular units. When a water bottle is placed under the dispenser, an electronic sensor detects the bottle and chilled, filtered water fills the container.

In addition, each water station includes a digital counter that displays how many 16-ounce water bottles have been filled and saved from the landfill. As of April 6, after nearly four weeks of operation, the New Kensington campus prevented the demise of more than 4,000 disposable containers.

“Our goal is to benefit the University by reducing the amount of waste and creating a 'green' environment on campus,” Bush said.

During spring break, the building operations department installed the first three units during the March in the Fitness Room in the Athletics Center; the upper-level of the Administration building, adjacent to the main lobby; and in Cafe 780. As the other drinking fountains on campus wear out, they will be replaced by hydration stations. Routine maintenance on the filter and refrigeration components will keep the new units running efficiently.

"The filters are designed to handle 3,000 gallons of water," said Bob Kaufman, supervisor of maintenance. "The fountain sensors will alert us when it needs to be replaced."

Green, yellow and red LED lights, located on the front of the water stations, will give a visual indication to the campus's technical services crew on the current status of the filter.

In addition to conserving landfill space, the hydration stations can help reduce the campus' carbon footprint. According to Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit organization that advocates for safe and affordable drinking water, more than 17 million barrels of oil -- enough to fuel a million cars for a year -- are needed to produce the plastic water bottles sold annually in the United States.

According to Bush, there are no plans in the offing to ban bottled water on campus. The hydration stations are a "green" option for the campus community. Bottled water is still sold in café 780.

The initial hydration stations were funded by the student facility fee on a recommendation by the campus' Facilities Fee committee. The fee, $78 per semester for full-time students, is restricted to improvements of recreational and multi-use space for students. This seven-member committee is chaired by the Student government Association president, and comprises students, faculty and staff. The facilities fee has been used to purchase new furniture for the lobbies at main entrance lobby, and the lobbies outside the Forum Theatre and cafeteria.

The new drinking foundations are the latest in the campus' quest for sustainability. Three years ago, "Going Green" was implemented with single stream recycling. Working in conjunction with the Westmoreland Cleanways Program, the campus provides a fast, easy and efficient way to recycle without the hassle of sorting recycled materials. Single stream recycling allows end-users to discard plastics, paper, and cans into one container. Green and blue containers are located in high-traffic areas throughout the campus. Dumpsters are located behind the Athletics Center and in the lower parking lot behind the Science and Technology Building.

Penn State has been the leader in sustainability initiatives among colleges and universities. The Campus Sustainability Office, established in 2008, promotes and ensures environmentally-safe activity at Penn State. Its initiatives protect and enhance the financial, human, and ecological resources of the University, and the planet.


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Last Updated April 06, 2011